One year later: Reflecting on the pandemic’s impact on BYU

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Today marks one year since BYU notified students that classes would take an extended weekend off and then be held virtually for the remainder of the semester.

What at first seemed like BYU’s first spring break and a chance to move back home with family turned into an ongoing, worldwide pandemic that no one at the time properly understood. In reflection of this anniversary, here is a recap of how the pandemic affected life at BYU.

Feb. 22, 2020 — BYU has its first on-campus case

Fans rush the court after BYU upset Gonzaga. Health officials found out later that a member of the crowd was positive for COVID-19 the night of the game. (Hannah Miner)

BYU was notified by the Utah County Health Department that an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 was in attendance at the men’s basketball game between Gonzaga and BYU on Feb. 22.

March 11, 2020 — BYU begins canceling study abroad programs

The first study abroad rograms affected by the pandemic were programs in China, South Korea and a few in Italy. Several students in China and South Korea for study abroad programs were brought home since the outbreak of the virus.

At the time, students were still planning on studying abroad during Spring and Summer Terms, but later all programs were canceled until at least Fall Semester 2021.

March 12, 2020 — Winter 2020 classes go remote

BYU announced over Twitter that all classes on March 13, 16 and 17 were canceled in alignment with COVID-19 guidelines issued by the Church Education System on March 11, 2020.

In addition, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also announced that all worship services, activities and other public gatherings were temporarily canceled worldwide.

March 12, 2020 — BYU sports stopped

Gymnast Shannon Evans performs at a meet. Her senior season was canceled when the pandemic hit. (BYU Photo)

There was an eerie feeling when the sports world woke up on March 12. The NBA was the first North American professional league to suspend its season, and as the day wore on, more dominoes fell and every professional sport was suspended. Then the real heartbreaker came — the NCAA canceled all winter and spring sports that were still in session, including championship tournaments.

March 20, 2020 — Missionaries begin coming home

In this Sunday, March 22, 2020 photo, hundreds of people gather to welcome missionaries returning home from the Philippines at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Sen. Mitt Romney and Utah state leaders are criticizing the large gathering of family and friends who went to the airport when people are supposed to be keeping their distance from one another to prevent more spread of the coronavirus. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent out a letter to members worldwide on March 20 announcing changes to missionary work because of the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most missionaries serving outside their native countries were sent home and Missionary Training Centers were closed, moving all preparation online.

March 23, 2020 — First BYU student tests positive

BYU received a notification that a student enrolled in classes at BYU tested positive for COVID-19. An off-campus property manager reported the case to the university on March 23, 2020.

April 24, 2020 — BYU graduation is held virtually

BYU broadcast journalism senior Karmen Kodia poses for a graduation photo wearing a cap, gown and mask. (Karmen Kodia)

Caps and gowns, commencement speakers, pictures with friends — all hallmarks of a traditional college graduation ceremony. But last year was drastically different. 

COVID-19 forced BYU’s graduating seniors to conclude their college experience online and disrupted their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to formally celebrate their graduation.

June 23, 2020 — BYU announces Fall Semester plans

BYU announced it would hold hybrid classes, which combine in-person and remote learning, for Fall Semester.

A letter from President Kevin J Worthen said students and employees are required to wear face coverings in all classroom settings, in all university buildings, during interactions with campus guests and customers, in other areas where directed and when physical distancing is hard to be maintained.

The beginning of Fall Semester brought a lot of questions for students. One question was how BYU would handle testing its student’s for COVID-19. Students, faculty and staff were not required to be tested in order to return to campus. Instead BYU’s testing plan, required the testing of students and employees within four broad categories: symptomatic individuals, those who have had close contact with a known COVID-19 case, risk-based evaluation and testing, and randomized testing across the BYU community.

Aug. 27, 2020 — Students begin returning to classes


Students gather in on-campus housing areas before the semester starts. Some are concerned about BYU’s lack of enforcement regarding COVID-19 safety protocols. (Lisi Merkley, Thomas Fekete, Luke Romney)

BYU outlined its expectations of students regarding COVID-19 protocols for Fall Semester, but how it would enforce those guidelines was less clear — and it seems students took advantage of this.

Large gatherings where individuals were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing occurred in student’s first week back on campus despite BYU’s encouragement to avoid such gatherings and follow safety guidelines.

Sept. 4, 2020 Parties continue despite pandemic

People dance at a Young/Dumb party on Sept. 4, 2020. (Preston Crawley)

Provo-based party company Young/Dumb hosted an indoor dance party one month after receiving local attention and social media criticism for a similar event. “The Glow Up Show Up: Back to School Neon Dance Party” took place Friday, Sept. 4, capping off BYU’s first week back to school.

Sept. 22, 2020 Utah County officials pass mask mandate

The Utah County Health Department and county commissioners issued a public health order mandating masks on Sept. 22, 2020 after cases in the county spiked.

The order applied to anyone in the county in an indoor or outdoor public area where consistent social distancing isn’t possible. It also allowed for multiple exemptions including individuals under 5 years old, those with medical conditions and people eating or drinking.

Sept. 26, 2020 Football starts without fans

Quarterback Zach Wilson throwing a pass in Provo, Utah for their game against Troy. (BYU photo)

BYU Athletics originally announced that 6,000 fans would be in attendance at LaVell Edwards Stadium against Troy for the Cougars’ home opener, but an increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Utah County altered the original plans. 

The Cougars went on to defeat the Troy Trojans by a final score of 48-7 in the home opener, with several BYU players setting new career highs.

BYU sports were uniquely affected by the pandemic, as teams played in front of empty stadiums or saw multiple games canceled when opponents dealt with COVID-19 exposures.

Oct. 12, 2020 — BYU announces Winter Semester plans

BYU students learned they would attend Winter Semester classes with the same options of blended and online delivery available in Fall Semester, in an Oct. 12 email from University Communications.

Nov. 8, 2020 — Utah governor announces statewide mask mandate

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert addresses the state on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Herbert announced a statewide mask mandate for the foreseeable future and other guidelines for the next two weeks. (Screenshot of KSL TV broadcast)

Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced a statewide mask mandate Nov. 8, 2020, citing record COVID-19 numbers and full hospitals. Utah’s cases numbers, deaths and hospitalizations shot up over the week leading up to the mandate.

Nov. 24, 2020 Students make Thanksgiving plans

BYU encouraged students to return home and stay there through the holidays and end of the semester with all classes going remote after Thanksgiving.

Jan. 5, 2021 BYU adopts new testing plan

BYU adopted a new testing plan developed by the Utah System of Higher Education. According to a message from University Communications, all students who live in on-campus housing or have in-person classes “were asked to take a COVID-19 screening test during the first 10 days of Winter Semester.” After the first 10 days, testing has been focused and random. Students who show symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in exposed to others with COVID-19 will also need to get tested.

Jan. 19, 2021 — President Nelson gets vaccinated

President Russell M. Nelson receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 19. (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

President Russell M. Nelson and his wife received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine along with seven other General Authorities and their wives.

statement released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Jan. 19 says “the Church urges its members, employees and missionaries to be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization.”

March 11, 2021 — Utah makes vaccine strides

As of March 11, over 330,000 Utahns were fully vaccinated, with plans to gradually increase vaccine efforts and availability in the coming months.

However, Utah will join a handful of states next month as it lifts its statewide mask mandate on April 10. The mandate will expire just days after the state opens vaccine appointments to all adult residents on April 1.

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